In 2014, heavily pregnant with twins and outraged by an article I read on how a community in California was affected by measles, a disease well under control because of vaccines — I angry-wrote an essay about my stand on vaccinations. I argued that vaccination was not a personal choice. Personal choices do not affect entire communities. Personal choices include breastfeeding or not, feeding your children chicken nuggets or organic quinoa. I believed then — and now — that a reasonable schedule of vaccinations for children spread out over a few years is the way to go.
The backlash was fierce. I was called names, told that I was uneducated, uninformed, stupid, a bitch. What right did I have to tell people that vaccinations are not their choice?
I understood the negative reactions . In general, folks do not like to be told what to do, especially when it comes to medical choices for them and their children. I understand that. I do not want someone else to dictate my choice of birth control, what part of my body is considered beautiful, or whether I can breastfeed in public. Instead of trying to understand that I was asking people to make an informed decision based on science in the interests of the greater good, many people chose to see it as me, an individual, telling them what to do.
They pointed out that despite my personal beliefs, they believed that vaccines cause autism — based on a study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that has been categorically debunked. Some cite cases of vaccine-injury (children who were adversely affected by vaccines and sent me statistics on the large number of cases). A recent Time article revealed that although these numbers seem large at a glance — a total of 2,967 cases were adjudicated and 1,876 were compensated — the impression it gives is misleading. Compare that to the number of vaccinations administered from 2006 to 2014 — 2.5 billion — and the likelihood of a vaccine injury is less than one in a million. The odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 960,000. Doesn’t that put things into stark perspective?
I wrote that essay from the point of a view of a mother, horrified by what I’d read and watched. I was tired of reading articles about kids dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. I was heartsick watching a mother describe her family’s struggle with pertussis. I stood on my emotional soapbox and yelled at the world for choosing instead to believe in a debunked study linking vaccinations to autism. I was mad that people would rather listen to a celebrity with no medical background than to scientists who do this for a living. (If people still want to listen to a celebrity, why not someone who’s more reasonable like Kristen Bell?)
What I should have done was point people in the direction of facts and figures from established organizations such as the World Health Organization, Shot at Life, and a parent-led organization Voices for Vaccines.
The vitriol did not deter me from believing in science. I vaccinate my four children on a schedule. I grew up and live in a country in which certain vaccinations are mandatory, and optional vaccines are easily available and affordable. I do not choose to do this blindly or because I was told to. I do not choose to do this because I’m part of a great conspiracy group run by some huge conglomerate out to make money only, not caring what “poison” we allow to be injected into our children.
I am a mother who has done her research, and I’m making a choice to do the right thing by my community.
Several people pointed out that I’m “just a former public relations and marketing person” so “what does she know?” They said that because I’m not a medical professional or a professional of any kind (“just a mother”), I must not know what I’m talking about. Many anti-vaccination folks who sent me emails, messages, and left comments on my Facebook page were not medical professionals or researchers either.
I am not a doctor or a scientific researcher. I don’t work for a pharmaceutical company — never have. I am not a nurse or a professor of any kind. I don’t have a doctorate. However, I am college-educated with a decent family upbringing. I am a relentless researcher and questioner. I am a mother who loves her children and cares very much that they are healthy and given all the opportunities they deserve.
I am, however, well-versed in medical issues concerning my children, including vaccinations. I have read available material regarding why vaccinations are dangerous. I have read widely on why vaccinations work and how they have wiped out many contagious and potentially fatal diseases worldwide. I have read articles on how communities outside of America still face the danger of measles because they lack access to vaccinations.
On September 27, 2016, Pan American Health Organization (part of the United Nations) declared that measles has been eradicated from the Americas, which include North, South, and Central America, and the Caribbean. This means that any cases of measles originate from outside of the Americas. This is great news, but officials warn that measles can still “come back” or become endemic if enough people are not vaccinated against it. The recent outbreak in Italy confirms this. This is where herd immunity comes into play.
Herd immunity, in simple terms, is a form of indirect protection against infectious diseases when a large percentage of a population become immune against infection. This results in a measure of protection for those who are not able to be immunized. Many rely on herd immunity when they cannot be vaccinated due to age or medical reasons.
Perhaps the tide has turned at last. In recent comments on my first article, there were many parents who agreed that scheduled vaccinations are the way to go. One former anti-vaccination mom shared her story of how she changed her stance when her three children became infected with rotavirus (for which the vaccination is available). Her story is just one of many who went from anti to pro-vaccinations, and usually because one or more of their family members fell ill from vaccine-preventable diseases. I wish it didn’t take fatal or near-fatal incidents to change people’s minds.
Following my strongly worded essay, I was contacted by someone asking me if I was interested in a debate with a naturopath about my stand on vaccinations (I assume she’s against it.).
I said no.
No, because I no longer want to debate whether vaccinating is the right choice or not. It doesn’t matter what anti-vaxxers throw at me — their “research” and unfounded claims. I still believe that vaccinations are not a personal choice. It’s a community choice. For me, to vaccinate or not is not a debate.
I do not want to engage with the anti-vaccination folks in name-calling. I have not and will not stoop to tell them that they’re misinformed, stupid, ignorant, or selfish. Real research with actual results is out there if they choose to open their minds to it.
I will not rant and shout from the rooftops. I will not judge or shame.
However, I will ask them to see it from mothers like me. I am not standing on my emotional soapbox yelling at them anymore. I am a parent and advocate of good health and smart choices.
Please. Vaccinate your children. Protect them. Protect those who cannot be vaccinated for various reasons. Protect your community. Give them a shot at life.